by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor
October 14, 2018 - Pentecost 21 - B
Sermon text: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” – Mark 10:21
I’d rather not deal with our gospel reading for today.
I’d rather not deal with it because it does not have a happy ending.
And I’d rather not deal with it
because I’m afraid that the person
who doesn’t have a happy ending in this reading
might be me.
The gospel writer Mark gives us only one description
about this man who came to Jesus long ago.
Mark tells us that this man “had many possessions.”
Could that same observation be made about me?
Let’s see… how many possessions do I have?
Well, Melody and I have a home.
We have a house filled with furniture.
Our closet is full of clothes.
We have a refrigerator, oven, dishwasher,
clothes washer and dryer.
We each have a vehicle to drive.
We have TVs, computers, cameras, stereo, and cell phones.
We have a lawn mower tractor, push mower, and a snow blower.
We have hundreds of books and many music CDs, and DVD videos.
We have plenty of food in our refrigerator and pantry.
We have many dollars in our checking account, savings accounts,
and pension plans.
We have insurance plans.
I have many woodworking and mechanical tools.
We have gardening tools as well.
So how many possessions do I have?
I honestly don’t know.
I have so many possessions that I can’t count them all.
Suffice it to say, like the person in our gospel reading today,
I have “many possessions.”
Maybe this is true for you as well.
In the time of Jesus, most people did not have many possessions,
but really very few.
An average person back then
might have had a very small and simple house
consisting of one or two rooms.
They probably owned a table and an oil lamp,
perhaps two sets of clothes,
a few cooking pots and utensils,
and perhaps a few tools for sewing,
gardening, and woodworking
and maybe enough food for a week or two.
Most people in the time of Jesus had very few possessions.
But that’s not true for me
and that’s probably not true for you either.
We have much in common with the man in our gospel reading,
the one whom Mark described with the words:
“he had many possessions.”
It would be no big deal if this encounter with Jesus
happened to someone else.
But what if the person in this reading
represents you and me?
What if each of us are the ones with an unhappy ending?
Let’s consider what it would be like
if we had been the one coming to Jesus.
It all began with the man running up to Jesus and asking:
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
If you could ask Jesus one question, what would you ask him?
We probably would ask the same question
this man asked so long ago:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This is a very important question, isn’t it?
Maybe it is the most important question of all.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered by first saying:
“You know the commandments:
‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness;
You shall not defraud;
Honor your father and mother.’”
Hearing what Jesus had answered, the man may have started to smile.
It may have been just as he had imagined.
He may have thought that he was home free.
He told Jesus: “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth!”
Had we been in this man’s shoes, we might have felt pretty good as well.
No one’s perfect, of course.
So like this man, we sometimes mess up and make mistakes.
But also like him, we generally do a pretty good job
of obeying the Ten Commandments.
When we compare our lives to other people we know,
most of us probably feel that
we’ve done pretty well obeying the commandments.
So when Jesus says that to inherit eternal life,
one must keep the commandments,
we might also have answered:
“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
And when the man had said this to Jesus,
the gospel writer Mark tells us something quite significant.
Mark put it this way: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…”
In the entire gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke
this is the only time that we are told
of Jesus’ love for a specific individual.
Of course, with his words and actions there were many times
that Jesus demonstrated his love for many people.
But this was the only time that the gospel writer Mark
thought it necessary to state that Jesus loved a specific person.
So if we can identify with this man in the gospel reading,
how wonderful it is to hear that Jesus loves us.
Jesus loves each one of us so very much!
“Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so!”
So far, so good.
But then Jesus told the man:
“You lack one thing;
go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven;
then come, follow me.”
These words of Jesus must have hit the man hard.
We can imagine this man considering what Jesus had told him.
“You lack one thing…. lack one thing… one thing…
go, sell… sell… sell what you own…
and give… give… give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven… treasure in heaven…
then come… come… follow me… follow… me.”
What would he do?
What would you do?
Mark describes the man’s reaction this way:
“he was shocked
and went away grieving,
for he had many possessions.”
The man’s response was two-fold:
first, he was shocked,
and second, he went away grieving!
First, let’s consider the fact that this man was shocked.
This man who had many possessions
was suppose to sell them and give the money to the poor
and then follow Jesus?
Of course, that would be shocking!
Wouldn’t it be shocking to you if Jesus said these words to you?
Sell my possessions?… give the money to the poor?… follow Jesus?
Our mind probably does whatever is necessary to escape
hearing these words addressed to each of us.
We might think that maybe Jesus is exaggerating here
or maybe he’s talking about someone else.
But if he is talking to each one of us here today,
wouldn’t his words be shocking to us?
The man’s second response to the words of Jesus
was that he went away grieving.
The man was crushed… maybe tears were rolling down his checks…
maybe he was sobbing… his heart full of pain.
Obviously this man had some sense that
not selling his possessions and giving to the poor…
and not claiming the treasures in heaven….
and not following Jesus
would be a huge loss for him!
No wonder he was grieving as he left Jesus that day.
Then Jesus explained to his disciples:
“How hard it will be for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were dumbfounded at these words
and so they asked: “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus told them,
“For mortals it is impossible,
but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
The disciples realized that they, unlike the man with many possessions,
had left much to follow Jesus.
So they said to Jesus:
“Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
And Jesus told them:
“…there is no one who has left house…or (family)…
or fields, for my sake…
who will not receive a hundredfold now is this age –
houses, (family), fields, with persecutions –
and in the age to come eternal life.”
So what does all this mean for us today?
First, let me mention five things that seem clear to me
and then two things that cause me to struggle.
First, it is clear that we cannot be good enough to gain eternal life.
The man in the gospel reading thought that
by his obedience to the commandments
he would get eternal life.
But Jesus said he was still lacking something very important.
Second, it is clear that having many possessions
can be a major roadblock to following Jesus
and claiming eternal life.
Third, it is clear that what Jesus wants from us
is not just obedience to commandments,
but that we actually follow him.
Fourth, it is clear that there is a wonderful treasure
for those who leave all and follow Jesus.
Those who follow Jesus will receive much here and now…
and a great treasure in heaven as well.
And then fifth, it is clear that we cannot do anything
to earn entrance into heaven.
Jesus said: “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God;
for God all things are possible.”
If it were possible to get into heaven by our good works,
then there would not have been any reason
for Jesus to have suffered and died on a cross.
But it is not possible for us to save ourselves
and so we very much do need a Savior.
All we need to do is to follow Jesus.
Now two struggles I have with what Jesus said in this gospel reading.
First, are my many possessions
getting in the way of my following Jesus?
Sometimes I hear of Christians
going on a mission trip in a foreign country.
They work with people who are extremely poor.
Often I am told that these people
don’t have much, but they are happy.
How can that be?
How can people have little and still be happy?
In our country we are so ingrained with the notion
that to have a good and happy life we need many possessions.
If we are currently unhappy, then we often think
that the solution is to buy more things.
But could it be that one does not need much to be happy?
Could it also be true that not only do our many possessions
not make us happy,
but actually get in the way of us being happy?
Even more importantly, could our many possessions
be getting in the way of us follow Jesus?
This is one struggle Jesus’ words cause for me.
Then a second struggle.
Jesus wanted the man with many possessions and also us today
to follow him.
What does it mean to follow Jesus today?
Obviously, we cannot literally follow Jesus around Galilee
as did his first disciples.
But still, Jesus wants us to follow him today.
What does it mean to follow Jesus today?
To love him?
To live with him, each and every day?
To live out our faith in our daily life?
To follow his commands to feed the hungry, share with the poor,
love our enemies, and care for the sick?
What does it mean for us to follow Jesus today and every day.
I wonder what ever happen to the man in our gospel reading.
Did he ever sell his many possessions
and give the money to the poor?
Did he ever let go of his treasures on earth
in order to claim the treasures in heaven?
Did he ever come back to Jesus
and follow him?